Voter suppression accusation puts Hamilton County into national spotlight

Politics

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — A campaign against voter suppression puts Central Indiana in the headlines.

The comments came from Stacey Abrams who gave the Democratic response to the State of the Union address this year and lost a high profile governor’s race in Georgia last year. She chairs the voting rights advocacy group Fair Fight.

When she was a guest earlier this week on CBS’s This Morning she said:

“Voter suppression is real. We know that Voter ID laws seem perfectly normal…if you live in Indiana where they move your polling place in Hamilton County outside of the bounds of the city, if you didn’t have a car, you couldn’t get to vote.”

That accusation did not go over very well with election officials in Hamilton County once they found out.

It’s an accusation Hamilton County election officials said they’ve never heard of, so for that first time to be on national television wasn’t very pleasant.

“Horrible,” said Election Administrator Beth Sheller. “We don’t want that term used for Hamilton County at all.”

Sheller has been in the post less than two years.

“I think her comments matter,” she said.

County Clerk and former state representative Kathy Williams had served as election administrator for 26 years before that. When she heard the news from Sheller she was confused about even the location.

“Atlanta, Indiana?” asked Williams. “(Sheller) said, ‘Atlanta, Georgia.’ That’s even more perplexing.”

Precinct locations change often in Hamilton County. Sheller said about 35 of 125 countywide just this year. But most are for safety reasons not political and they don’t go far. For example the polling location at Harrison Parkway Elementary moved to Prairie View Christian Church, about a half-mile away on 141st Street.

Other times, construction is to blame for a move. With a population continuing to grow, the 2,000 active voter limit per precinct means there’s a constant juggling act for officials.

“It happens. If you can’t go back to the place and they won’t sign a contract or can’t sign a contract, we don’t have a choice but to move them,” said Sheller.

Staff for Abrams tells News 8 she meant to refer to Marion County which was the subject of an investigation and lawsuit back in 2017 when they decreased early voting locations at the same time as the county election board expanded them in Hamilton County.

But that officials here point out, that explanation won’t make national headlines.

“It puts a bad light on our county,” said Sheller.

But Williams doesn’t think any damage will be done.

“No. There’s just three or four of us that spike up a little bit,” she said with a laugh.

With the state law requirement of no more than 2,000 active registered voters per precinct, officials try to disperse voters above that amount to neighboring ones, but sometimes have no choice put to split them in half. But every time your location changes, they will send out a notice informing you of your new polling place.

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